Are You Teaching The Whole Elephant?

Posted by Cindy Bristow on Nov 8th 2018

If you focus on mechanics and are still frustrated that your players can’t perform simple skills in games, I‘ve got a solution for you.

You might be surprised to learn that the answer lies with 6 blind guys and an elephant.

I have a very cool story about an elephant that shows how important it is that we teach our players the big picture, instead of just the parts and pieces.

As coaches, we do a terrific job teaching our players the parts, pieces and mechanics of a skill. We’ve become drill experts and our players have become great at repeating these parts in drills. And thanks in large part to the advances in video analysis, we’ve become freaks about teaching every single detail of every single mechanic.

But this approach comes with a huge warning label – the pieces are just that, pieces. Our players are great at the pieces, but poor at knowing how these pieces fit into the whole picture (the skill). But, if you spend too much time focusing on only the parts, then your players can end up in pieces.

If this sounds familiar, I’ve got a tremendous story that shows while the parts are important, they are just part of the whole – so we’ve always got to help our players understand how the pieces they’re practicing fit into the whole. The story goes like this…

6 blind guys are traveling and come upon an elephant. Since they’re blind, they’ve never seen an elephant before, so they aren’t sure what this animal is. To understand what it is, they spread out and start touching different parts of the animal:elephant  parts pieces 6 blind guys rope wall fan spear snake tree

  • One man touches the Tail and says…it’s a Rope!
  • Another touches the Side and says…it’s a Wall!
  • The third man touches the Ear and says…it’s a Fan!
  • The fourth touches a Tusk and says…it’s a Spear!
  • The fifth touches the Trunk and says…it’s a Snake!
  • And the last man touches a Leg and says…it’s a Tree!

While they all set out to figure out what this animal was, they each became so focused on exploring their particular piece of the animal that they failed to see how the parts fit together to form a whole – in this case, an elephant.

elephant teach pieces tail trunk ear leg tusk

It’s true that elephants have tails and trunks and ears and legs, and these are important parts if you’re an elephant. But parts are always just that – parts of the entire picture, or animal or skill. Just like a trunk is part of an elephant, loading the back leg is part of a swing.

If you’re heavily teaching the mechanics and wondering why your players just can’t “put it all together” in a game, it’s because they don’t know it’s an elephant. Sure, you do, but they don’t. They’re just like our 6 blind guys who are doing their best to focus on their particular part of the whole, without having a clue how all the pieces go together.

elephant teach players whole pieces together skill parts

Yes, the pieces and the mechanics matter, but only in making up the whole. Teach the elephant first and let your players know what the skill looks like. Then let them know it has lots of different parts and we’re going to practice the important parts. Once your players understand the entire skill then working on various parts of it will make far more sense to them, and most importantly, will allow them to do a better job of putting the pieces together into the whole under the speed and stress of a game!

It’s Ok to teach that the elephant has parts, but never let your players forget it’s an elephant.

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